Trouble at top delays reform of Olympics

The shame of the endlessly bubbling International Olympic Committee (IOC) corruption scandal is that the members are shameless.

They have made clear that they don't want real reform. Rather, they want the party to continue and the music to play until dawn. Imagine, only 10 of the 90 voting members have quit or been expelled for having the ethics of alley cats. Ten more have been warned, censured, or wrist-slapped.

How about hooking all of them to a polygraph? This would be a terrific opportunity for IOC members who get gifts, cash, and services routinely because they award coming Olympics to panting cities - to clear what they insist are their good names.

The IOC rule is no member can accept a gift worth more than $150. It's innocence-proving time.

How shameless is the IOC, composed of people essentially appointed for life with no responsibility or accountability? A top Olympic official, Prince Alexandre de Merode, defends the group, saying that "it's not the person who takes that is at fault, but the one who gives." Yes, he said this.

Meanwhile, an even more serious concern goes unaddressed because of the organizational chaos: increasingly rampant drug use by Olympic competitors.

And far from the maddening head fakes and sleight-of-hand tricks performed by the IOC, John Morton in Thetford Center, Vt., muses in sorrow.

Morton knows whereof he muses. After all, he has been involved with the US Olympic Biathlon Team six times, including twice as a competitor in the '70s.

Morton is the author of a splendidly perceptive novel, "A Medal of Honor," about Olympic competition. In it, one skier confesses at a press conference that biathlon, like other sports, "has problems with athletes and coaches who want too badly to win."

Morton is the opposite of the IOC. He is reasonable, candid, and dead honest. He loves sport for sport's sake. What a quaint view. Morton was never close to winning an Olympic medal, although in fairness, no American has ever medaled in the biathlon. It's the game of Norwegians, Germans, Finns, and Russians. Nor does he insist that save for bad luck or whatever, "I coulda been a contender."

What Morton does say is that drugs have "a definite impact on results." But like picking up Jello with your fingers, it's hard to get a firm grasp on the issue. Regardless, Morton says drug use routinely is "apparent after the fact. You've been racing about equally against someone all year leading up to the Olympics. Then at the Olympics, they are two minutes faster." He shrugs.

Morton, who now designs cross-country ski trails, says it's clear that few connected with the Olympics have the stomach for taking on themselves or drugs in a meaningful way. "The Olympic leaders," he says, "have broken the trust and diminished the Olympics."

He's right, of course. Cycling is an adventure in the drug wilderness. Snowboarding is a major suspect. Steroids are an ongoing problem everywhere. Marijuana is a kind of bug on the windshield that needs addressing. Blood doping is a way of life. Performance enhancers - la Androstenedione banned by the Olympics and the NFL but not prohibited by baseball that powered Mark McGwire's home-run assault last summer - are blossoming everywhere.

Morton is dismayed that the public seems to be coming to terms with drugs, as if they are simply part of the sports and Olympic landscape, like flags.

Looking toward solutions, Morton says a growing concern is that much drug use with athletes occurs in the off-season. Some drugs allow for harder training and quicker recovery. Ergo, he suggests unannounced and random off-season testing. And, perhaps, he says, there needs to be more sophisticated blood testing at events, rather than relying entirely on urine tests. The IOC keeps studying.

Testing can be invasive. But Morton says correctly, of course, that "ethical athletes will put up with most anything in order to know they are playing on a level field." Or, in the case of biathlon, a hilly one.

We need to listen to John Morton. He has been there, seen that. He's a refreshingly modest man with perhaps much to be modest about: His best individual finish in a world competition was 24th. But he believes absolutely in the "very worthy and noble goal of the Olympics and the purity of international athletic competition."

There is a long silence. Then John Morton, a man of principle, says softly of all the Olympic malfeasance, "It's definitely sad."

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